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Industry facing meltdown, says QPANI

Northern Ireland’s road maintenance sector currently facing unprecedented threat due to political impasse

THE Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland (QPANI) is warning that, as a result of the political impasse at Stormont and the Executive’s failure to agree the redistribution of government funding as part of the June monitoring round, the road maintenance industry in the province is facing unprecedented threats as funding comes to an end in a couple of weeks’ time.

Following a meeting between QPANI members and Trevor Clarke MLA, chairman of the Assembly Regional Development (RD) Committee, a decision has been taken to recall the RD Committee today at 2pm to discuss the current funding crisis and immediate threat to skilled jobs and the industry’s future capacity to deliver a quality service.

Gordon Best, regional director of QPANI, which represents all of the road maintenance companies carrying out contracts for the Department for Regional Development, said the outlook was the most serious that he can remember.

‘Unfortunately, for many years now the process by which the maintenance of our roads network is funded has been totally dependent on how much money other government departments cannot spend. That money is then redistributed about three times a year in what are called the monitoring rounds,’ he explained.

‘In the past, we have always had an overlap during which there have been enough funds to ensure continuity of work for contractors. Since the start of the year, as a result of funding reductions, employment levels within the sector have dropped from 950 to 466 at the start of August, and if funding is not secured immediately this could drop further to an almost an unrecoverable number of 189.

‘These facts graphically illustrate the serious funding issues we face as a result of the June monitoring round not being agreed yet. Furthermore, the immediate impact on health and safety on our roads and the implications for the state of our roads, particularly rural roads, and the higher costs of road reconstruction will be serious.

‘The possible scenario of having no work at all in three weeks’ time will impact on the industry’s capacity to deliver again when and if funding levels return to what is required. We are already witnessing a significant skills migration from Northern Ireland. The fall in workload discourages young people from seeking a career in our industry due to the stop/start nature of funding.’

Mr Best continued: ‘Hauliers, who we are dependent upon for moving our products from A to B, are also leaving the industry as a result of the uncertainty of a steady income. Moreover, companies involved in road maintenance have invested millions in plant and machinery, training and qualifying their workforce, and in quality systems to ensure they deliver a quality service and product for the Northern Ireland Executive and our local communities.

‘The industry, and indeed our economy, calls on our Executive to agree on the redistribution of funds from the June monitoring round as a matter of urgency so that highly skilled jobs are protected and the future integrity of our roads network is safeguarded.’

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